Title: Fifteen Years Later: Russians in Georgia Reflect on the 2008 War
Subtitle: Russian emigres gain fresh perspective on the conflict, as Georgian sentiments towards Russians remain divided
August marks the 15th anniversary of the Russia-Georgia war, a five-day conflict that shaped the relationship between the two nations and continues to impact the lives of many. Despite the passage of time, a significant number of Russians residing in Georgia still possess a limited understanding of the events that unfolded during that fateful summer week in 2008.
The war erupted when Georgian troops bombed and stormed Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, a separatist region that had received support from Russia since 1992. In response, the Russian army forcibly drove the Georgian military out of Tskhinvali, extending their reach further into Georgia. It was only when a peace agreement was signed on August 12th that the conflict came to a halt, narrowly avoiding the capital city of Tbilisi.
According to official figures, the war resulted in the loss of 228 Georgian civilians and 184 Georgian servicemen. The long-lasting impact of the conflict is evident in the sentiments that persist among the local population, as many Georgians harbor negative feelings towards Russians. A recent survey conducted by the International Republican Institute revealed that 37% of Georgians believe that Russians should not be allowed in the country until Russia withdraws from the occupied territories, while 29% expressed a preference for the departure of Russians altogether.
Interestingly, for some Russian emigres who moved to Georgia after the invasion of Ukraine, living in close proximity to the historic site of the 2008 conflict has afforded them a fresh perspective on Russia’s role in the war. They acknowledge the striking similarities between the invasion of Georgia and the subsequent invasion of Ukraine, perceiving the former as an embodiment of Russia’s colonial policy towards neighboring countries that dare to defy its influence.
However, it is important to note that not all Russians living in Georgia share the same perspective. Some Russians rely solely on second-hand information from television news and conversations with their parents to comprehend the events that unfolded in 2008. For them, the war remains a distant and somewhat elusive memory.
Moreover, some Russians question the dominant narrative of “Russian occupation,” asserting that it fails to capture the complexity of the conflict. They argue that Georgia’s own aspirations to dominate its ethnic minorities played a significant role in exacerbating tensions, contributing to the outbreak of violence.
While most Russians residing in Georgia do not feel personally responsible for the events of 15 years ago, they recognize the lingering negative perception associated with holding a Russian passport. The conflict and its aftermath have left deep scars in the geopolitical landscape of the region, with lasting consequences for all involved.
As the 15th anniversary of the Russia-Georgia war approaches, it serves as a somber reminder of the enduring impact of conflicts and the need for meaningful reconciliation among nations. The perspectives of both Russians and Georgians continue to evolve, shaped by personal experiences, historical narratives, and the ever-changing dynamics between their respective homelands.